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Monthly Archives: June 2012

I couldn’t get this to post as a response, so…

I hope that those in charge of creating the Harriet Tubman memorials will take more care to make sure the information is correct before presenting it to the public. It reminds me of the monument to Martin Luther King Jr. The memorial of King on the National Mall in Washington came under scrutiny when Maya Angelou, celebrated poet and civil rights proponent, criticized the quote.  Angelo charges that the quote, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,”* was taken out of context.  It makes sense that when making such a permanent monument to historical figures, maybe more scrutiny should be given to the information before it becomes public.

* Eyder Peralta, “A Paraphrased Quote Stirs Criticism of MLK Memorial” NPR(blog), August 31, 2011, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/08/31/140093786/a-paraphrased-quote-stirs-criticism-of-mlk-memorial

To continue with a similar idea to my post last week, and incorporate some things from this week, I looked into a film that I know is influential to some people I knew in the Kansas City area.  Ride With the Devil was directed by Ang Lee and based on the novel Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell.[1]  The movie and novel take place along the Missouri-Kansas border in the Civil War period.  The main character, Jake Roedel (played by Toby Maguire), joins a band of bushwhackers with his friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), when Chiles’ father is killed by a group of pro-Union guerrillas.[2]  The film is pertinent because it unabashedly forwards a Lost Cause mythology, and it is interesting because the mythology has some very distinctly Missourian facets.

Several elements of the Lost Cause are present in Ride With the Devil.  First, similarly to how the South claimed to be up against insurmountable odds in terms of manpower and industry, Roedel, Chiles, and their guerrilla comrades have to face not only rival partisans, but at times whole armies of Union troops.  And they do so with out even real military backup.  Secondly, the Jayhawkers (pro-Union Kansan guerrillas) and Union troops are portrayed as invaders and destroyers of Missourians’ way of life from the beginning of the film.  In contrast, the bushwhackers are represented as the sons of poor farmers who take to the woods to defend their homes and property.  Thirdly, the issue of slavery is barely dealt with, except when showing the pro-Southern bushwhackers having freed a slave.  This former slave, Daniel Holt, is shown being so grateful to his liberator that he, too, takes up arms against the Union.[3]

One significant divergence from Lost Cause orthodoxy is the brutality of the protagonists.  Throughout the film, they are seen acting without mercy, and generally un-gentlemanly.  The culmination of this behavior is when they sack the town of Lawrence, Kansas, with guerrilla chief William Quantrill.[4]

When I saw the movie, I thought it was so-so.  When I looked back at it with some more understanding of the Lost Cause, I can see how it perpetuates the ideology in a unique way in the Missouri-Kansas border region.

[1] Daniel McCarthy, “Ride With the Devil,” LewRockwell.com, March 27, 2001, accessed 6/28/2012 at http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/dmccarthy8.html.

[2] McCarthy.

[3] Ride With the Devil, directed by Ang Lee (Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures, 1999), HD Stream from Netflix.

[4] Ride With the Devil.

In the Mathew Reeves article “Reinterpreting Manassas,” he discusses the portrayal of African Americans at historic battlefields from the Civil War. Reeves brought up an interesting point in his article, how do you persuade the yeomen (the majority of the southern population) to secede and possibly take up arms against the North? He pointed out that southern elites were concerned that the yeomen would not support their decision.[1] As a means to help persuade the yeomen the slaveholders began to run a propaganda ads in local newspapers. These ads often cautioned non-slave holders about the horrors they would ultimately face if slaves were freed.[2] This information piqued my curiosity and diving further in to the matter I found an excellent article by James Oliver Horton, titled “Confronting Slavery and Revealing the ‘Lost Cause,’” Horton gives specific examples of the propaganda used by the southern elites.

Leaving no doubt that slavery was the cause of the war Horton examines just how the southern elite convinced the poor white farmers of the South to not only secede but also enter a civil war. Horton claims that, “by 1861 only about one third of southern families in the 11 seceding states held slaves, and the non-slaveholders always posed a potential problem for Confederacy unity.”[3]

One action taken was to run propaganda ads in newspapers across the South. Many newspapers published articles regarding the abolitionists’ intentions to remove slavery from the South when Lincoln became president.[4] To counterattack the abolition movement the South began writing articles that demanded the everlasting sanctity of slavery. Newspapers ran sentiments such as, “ ‘[t]he existence of slavery is at stake,’ ” and “ ‘We have dissolved the late Union, chiefly because of the [N]egro quarrel,’ ” the rhetoric quickly became irrefutable.[5]

A southern slaveholder and secessionist, Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, spoke to the yeomen declaring that institution of slavery made all whites privileged, without the it the poor whites would be no better than the blacks.[6] A Kentucky newspaper appropriately named, the Kentucky Statesmen, claimed, “pro-slavery men” were “true Southern men.”[7] The Louisville Daily hit nail on the head when it stated, “Do they wish to send their children to schools in which the [N]egro children of the vicinity are taught? DO they wish to give the [N]egro the right to appear in the witness box to testify against them?” they drove the nail home with the last statement, “AMALGAMATE TOGETHER THE TWO RACES IN VIOLATION OF GOD’S WILL.”[8] The eloquence used by the media and by southern elites proved very

affective. One white farmer spoke freely about his thoughts on emancipating slaves, “ ‘you Yanks want us to marry our daughters to niggers.’ ”[9] At the end of the day non-slaveholders ultimately sided with the elite slaveholders due to the fear of losing social status and intermingling of the races.

*I tried to locate the actual newspapers and speeches where of the propaganda but unfortunately either due to my lack of Internet and database browsing skills or simply the lack of information on the Internet, I was unable to locate them.


[1] Mathew Reeves, “Reinterpreting Manassas: The Nineteenth-Century African American Community at Manassas National Battlefield Park,” Historical Archaeology 37, no. 3 (2003), 126 http://www.jstor.org/stable/25617085 (accessed June 26, 2012).

[2] Reeves, 126.

[3] James Oliver Horton, “Confronting Slavery and the Revealing the ‘Lost Cause,’” Cultural Resource Management 21, no. 4 (1998), 15 crm.cr.nps.gov/archive/21-4/21-4-5.pdf (accessed June 26, 2012).

[4] Horton, 15.

[5] Horton, 15.

[6] Horton, 16.

[7] Horton, 16.

[8] Horton, 16.

[9] Horton, 16.

Since the beginning of this course, I have been extremely intrigued with the way American views in regards to the Civil War differ from place to place.  The heroic efforts of those fighting for both flags should not ever be forgotten.  That being said, I find it very fascinating how both the novels and the films continue to depict individual characters throughout the war.  This is especially true in both the novel The Killer Angels and the film Gettysburg.

The parts I found to be most interesting included the ways the novel and the film portray the leaders of both the North and South.  Of particular interest to me is how the novel and film portray General Lee as this GODLIKE figure despite his errors at Gettysburg.  On that same note much of the class argued that the film “humanizes” the characters in the story. My views differ whereas I argue that the characters, or leaders of the story are portrayed as more than human.  One quote that stands out to me from both the film and the novel comes from Colonel Chamberlain when he corrects his Lieutenant (his younger brother) for calling him by his first name.  When the Lieutenant makes the claim that General Meade “has his son as his adjutant.” Colonel Chamberlain responds by saying, “That’s different.  Generals can do anything. Nothing quite so much like God on earth as a general on the battlefield.”[1]

On a similar note, the story goes above and beyond to make General Lee this GODLIKE figure with the power to inspire his men despite the overwhelming odds opposing him.  Again the part that stands out the most to me is after the second days battle when Lee is riding his horse among the ranks of his men as they cheer and salute him.  Many reach out to touch his hand as though he was something more than a General.  This takes place after their second defeat in the battle itself and yet the spirits of the soldiers remain high.

On the other side of the battle, the Union soldiers view their leader (General Meade) as his predecessors as “idiots not fit to lead a Johnny Detail.”[2]  Of course this quote comes from a man who is questioning the efforts of the officers, especially because of the fact that he and his men are considered “mutineers.”  Nevertheless, it is strikingly odd that the soldiers of the Confederacy, despite the outcome view their leader as GODLIKE whereas the Union soldiers are the exact opposite still considering the outcome.


[1] Michael Sharra, The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War (New York: The Modern Library, 1974), 25.

[2] Sharra, 23.

The Civil War has brought about many controversial ideas; one idea is that if blacks were involved at all in the confederate army.  In all the books and discussions we have had in class, almost always there is a limited, almost nonexistent view of male African Americans and their participation in the Civil War.  Slavery was obviously a big part of the war and there are discussions about African American slaves and African American women but not a lot of details on black involvement in the fighting.  After doing some searching on the internet, I found some interesting things about black confederates, and some perturbed people claiming that they did not exist at all.  Despite all the evidence involved, there are those who claim black men were in no way part of the confederate army and try to defend it with all they can, truth or not.  Then there are those who have looked through many primary sources and found evidence of slaves being involved, but it may have not been on their own free will.

 A personal story of African American slaves involved in the war was John Parker and some others who fell into fighting at Bull Run.  Kate Masur who is a historian for Northwestern explains that all four men were slaves, ordered by their owners to fight for the Confederate cause. ‘We wish[ed] to our hearts that the Yankees would whip and we would have run over to their side but our officers would have shot us if we had made the attempt,’ Parker recalled.[1]  Does this story represent that masters forced their slaves to work in the Confederate army or was it their own will that they joined in the fighting?

 

There are other stories and evidence to prove that there were black confederates.  The battle at  Fort Pillow in Tennessee consisted of a garrison by one regiment of black troops, numbering 262, and a cavalry detachment of similar size, for a total of 557 men.[2]  Then the most infamous group, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, in which the regiment consisted of all black men.  There is also another story about blacks participating in regiments here and there.  Do you think these blacks in the confederate army are valid or are they made up?

 On one hand there are people like Harvard professor John Stauffer who states that, “They say the Civil War was about states’ rights, and they wish to minimize the role of slavery in a vanished and romantic antebellum South.  But most historians of the past 50 years hold that the root cause of the Civil War was slavery. They bristle at the idea of black Confederates, which they say robs the war of its moral coin as the crucible of black emancipation.”[3]  Even though the amount of black’s fighting for the confederacy was low, it still shows that they were there and they were fighting.  Stauffer states that blacks who shouldered arms for the Confederacy numbered more than 3,000 but fewer than 10,000.[4]  On the other hand, many scholars believe that black confederates did not exist.  Fergus Bordewich, who wrote the fiction book The Root, is not alone in his position. Top-ranking scholars have repeatedly torpedoed the myth, including Bruce Levine, the renowned professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Edwin Bearss, historian emeritus at the National Park Service; and Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, editor-in-chief of The Root and chair of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. Yet it persists.[5]  What do you think?  Are black confederates a myth or did they really exist?  If they did exist, why do you think they were involved?

A slave cartoon from Harpers Ferry, January 1863.

For more information about black Confederates:

54th Massachusetts:http://www.us-civilwar.com/54th.html

Confederate Law to authorize enlistment of slaves:http://www.history.umd.edu/Freedmen/csenlist.html

Myth of black confederates: http://www.theroot.com/views/myth-black-confederates-persists


[1] Kate Masur, “Slavery and Freedom at Bull Run,”  New York Times Opinion Pages, accessed June 28, 2012, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/27/slavery-and-freedom-at-bull-run/.

[2] J Rickard,”Fort Pillow Massacre, 12 April 1864,”  History of War, accessed June 28, 2012,  http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_fort_pillow_1864.html

[3] John Stauffer, “Black Confederates,” Harvard Gazette, accessed June 28, 2012, http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/09/black-confederates/.

[4] John Stauffer, “Black Confederates, ”  Harvard Gazette, accessed June 28, 2012, http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/09/black-confederates/.

 [5] Lynette Holloway, “The Myth of Black Confederates Persists, 2011,”  The Root, accessed June 28, 2012,  http://www.theroot.com/views/myth-black-confederates-persists.

Gettysburg today is remembered as the scene one of the most violent battles in American history.  It is one of the most visited historic sites in the country, with nearly three million people visiting a year, spending 381.1 million dollars, employing over five thousand workers. [1] Gettysburg was a town long before the battle, but it would appear that the battle is the only thing Gettysburg is known for.

If you Google “Gettysburg,” the first thing that comes up is a site dedicated to Gettysburg. Navigating around the site you find a list of businesses in the area, which makes Gettysburg seem like any other small town in the United States. It has art galleries, attorney’s offices, car dealers, a college, and other familiar town amenities.[2] Most of the website (even the header of the website has a photo of Civil War reactors lined up with cannons and tents in the background) is dedicated to the battle. But the town was founded long before the battle. Upon visiting the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s website, you would expect to find more about the town itself, rather than the battle. You would be wrong; however, as this site, like Gettysburg.com, has a list of businesses and services the town provides, its history page leaves something to be desired. A paragraph about the Civil War and the impact it had, and has had on the town.[3]  Finding the history of the town before the war is difficult. It seems that the town did not exist before the war found it. But the town was established in the late eighteenth century, and was named the country seat in 1800 when Adams County was created. The town had a thriving industrial backing, as well as the normal banks, taverns, housing, etc. [4]

The Civil War and the battle defiantly put Gettysburg on the map, but there is more to the history of the town, but it seems that even the historical communities are oblivious to this. It seems that when one even takes place in the town that literally rocks the town they focus solely on that event, almost forgetting the rest of the history. I’m sure the town of Gettysburg has a more rich history that the battle sites portray, but no one wants to remember that. It makes me wonder, if the reason that the town focuses so much energy into the battle sites and little into the rest of the history, is it all about the money that the tourists bring with them?


[1] “Tourism in Adams County, PA,” Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, accessed June 28, 2012, http://www.gettysburg.travel/media/facts.asp

[2] “Area Merchants—Other Services,” Gettysburg.com, accessed June 28, 2012, http://www.gettysburg.com/communit/cocindex.htm

[3] “Town History,” Gettysburg: The Most Famous Small Town In American, Accessed on June 28, 2012, http://www.mainstreetgettysburg.org/history.html

[4] “History of Gettysburg,” Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, accessed on June 28, 2012, http://www.gettysburg.travel/about/history.asp

In class, we have argued the role of women in the Civil War. I delved further into the role of women during this period by researching Elizabeth R. Varon and her podcast interview with the Organization of American Historians.  Varon argues that the role of women during the Civil War was not just an occasional appearance by a few well-known women, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe. She argues that women were an integral part in the origins of the Civil War. [1] Her article in the New York Times, which the interview draws from, discusses individual case studies of women who made difference.[2]  For example, many historians are aware of the importance of Harriett Beecher Stowe’s writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It has been credited with bringing awareness of the horrors of slavery. I, however, was not aware of books written in response to Stowe’s novel. Varon attributes these novels as, “enduring volley in the ongoing literary war over slavery,”[3] that leads to Margaret Mitchel and Gone with the Wind.   In her interview, Varon discusses the repercussions women experienced because of their public involvement in the abolition movement. Women, such as the Grimke sisters, were considered a threat to traditional values and were therefore divisive and destructive. The Grimke sisters were actively involved in abolition conventions during the mid-1800s.[4] Many religious groups considered women’s involvement in these actions as unwomanly.  I could see where men, Northern or Southern, would see this as a threat to their way of life.  If white males considered themselves as the top of the hierarchical food pyramid, then any changes in at the foundation would be taken as a threat.  Women were even a hazard in the North. Men allowed women to be part of the abolition movement as long as they were being foot soldiers. The north did not want women to take on public roles because it only caused more division between abolitionists and anti-abolitionists.  That did not stop men from asking women to be part of the political process, and legitimizing it with a women’s stamp of approval. Each side counted on women as being the mediators of their cause.

Even though men regarded women with importance when it came to counting them as part of the abolition movement, men on either side did not want women to publicize their help.  For women this fight continued beyond the Civil War.  The Civil War became a battleground for more than abolition. It became a proving ground for women.  Varon brings to light many of the individual battles that women had to fight, and the important role that women played in dividing the North and the South.


[1] Elizabeth R. Varon, interview by Carl R. Weinberg, OAH Magazine of History, Organization of American Historians, podcast audio, March 2011,  http://www.oah.org/programs/civilwar/podcast/.

[2] Elizabeth R. Varon, “Women at War,” The Opinionator(blog), New York Times, February 1, 2011, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/women-at-war/.

[3] (Varon, 2011)

[4] Karen Board Moran, “The Grimke Sisters,” Worcester Women’s History Project, accessed on June 28, 2012, http://www.wwhp.org/Resources/Slavery/grimkesisters.html.

Unfortunately, most people who study the American Civil War and how it is remembered often overlook the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Even as I typed this last sentence, the program that I am using to type does not recognize the word Glorieta, but it does recognize the word Gettysburg. Sadly, most of the people who have heard about the Battle of Glorieta Pass only recognize it as being referred to as “the Gettysburg of the West.” This title that the battle has been coined into, is what mainly caught my attention to the subject. I decided to research the Battle of Glorieta Pass and eventually came across the National Park Service (NPS) website.

The Battle of Glorieta Pass

Southwest United States 1862 – Click on Image for Larger View

Once on the NPS website, I found a summary of the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Within the summary, the description of the battle states the following, “Glorieta Pass was a strategic location, situated at the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, southeast of Santa Fe, and on the Santa Fe Trail. In March 1862, a Confederate force of 200-300 Texans under the command of Maj. Charles L. Pyron encamped at Johnson’s Ranch, at one end of the pass. Union Maj. John M. Chivington led more than 400 soldiers to the Pass and on the morning of March 26 moved out to attack. After noon, Chivington’s men captured some Rebel advance troops and then found the main force behind them. Chivington advanced on them, but their artillery fire threw him back. He regrouped, split his force to the two sides of the pass, caught the Rebels in a crossfire, and soon forced them to retire. Pyron and his men retired about a mile and a half to a narrow section of the pass and formed a defensive line before Chivington’s men appeared. The Yankees flanked Pyron’s men again and punished them with enfilade fire. The Confederates fled again and the Union cavalry charged, capturing the rearguard. Chivington then retired and went into camp at Kozlowski’s Ranch. No fighting occurred the next day as reinforcements arrived for both sides. Lt. Col. William R. Scurry’s troops swelled the Rebel ranks to about 1,100 while Union Col. John P. Slough arrived with about 900 men. Both Slough and Scurry decided to attack and set out early on the 28th to do so. As Scurry advanced down the canyon, he saw the Union forces approaching, so he established a battle line, including his dismounted cavalry. Slough hit them before 11:00 am. The Confederates held their ground and then attacked and counterattacked throughout the afternoon. The fighting then ended as Slough retired first to Pigeon’s Ranch and then to Kozlowski’s Ranch. Scurry soon left the field also, thinking he had won the battle. Chivington’s men, how-ever, had destroyed all Scurry’s supplies and animals at Johnson’s Ranch, forcing him to retreat to Santa Fe, the first step on the long road back to San Antonio, Texas. The Federals had won and, thereby, stopped Confederate incursions into the Southwest. Glorieta Pass was the turning point of the war in the New Mexico Territory.”[1]

The Battles of Glorieta Pass and Apache Canyon – Click on Image for Larger View

In addition to the summary, I was delighted to find that the NPS website also has a section titled “Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plans.” Within this section is a lesson plan titled, “The Battle of Glorieta Pass: A Shattered Dream.” I believe that this lesson plan has the potential of being an excellent tool for teachers to use in educating students about the importance of this battle. The reason that the Battle of Glorieta Pass has been termed “the Gettysburg of the West” is for the fact that it was this battle that prevented the Confederate Army from advancing further west with the hopes of attaining the Confederacy’s much needed economic resources (gold, silver, access to seaports,etc.)[2]

In closure, I hope that teachers not only in the West, but that all American Civil War teachers study and in turn teach about the Battle of Glorieta Pass. This battle is highly important to the studying of the American Civil War because it was a major loss for the Confederacy. As a result of this loss, the Confederacy was denied advancement to the West and the economic resources that they needed to finance the Battle of Gettysburg and other battles that were yet to happen in the great American Civil War.

 

[1] National Parks Service, “Battle Summary: Glorieta Pass”

http://www.nps.gov/hps/abpp/battles/nm002.htm (accessed June 28, 2012)

[2] National Parks Service, “The Battle of Glorieta Pass: A Shattered Dream”

http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/91glorieta/91glorieta.htm (accessed June 28, 2012)

One of the questions asked in class this past week was . . . “Are there any memorials to Civil War African Americans?”  The only one we could come up with was the Robert Shaw Memorial in Boston.  After searching the internet, I have discovered a number of monuments dedicated to the African American (referred to in the past as “Colored”) veterans of the Civil War.  In fact there is not only a monument in Washington, D.C. but a museum dedicated to the service of African Americans during the Civil War.  The “Spirit of Freedom” and the African Civil War Memorial and Museum can be seen at:    African American Civil War Memorial and Museum.  The museum opened in 1999 and relocated to its present location in the “U” Street District in 2011.

The following list is found on the website “ Monuments to the United States Colored Troops (USCT): The List  http://jubiloemancipationcentury.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/monuments-to-the-united-states-colored-troops-usct-the-list/

List of USCT Monuments:
1. The Connecticut Twenty-Ninth Colored Regiment, C. V. Infantry; New Haven, Connecticut.
2. The African-American Civil War Memorial – The Spirit Of Freedom; Washington, District of Columbia
3. 2nd Regiment Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops; Fort Myers, Florida
4. Colored Soldiers Monument (AKA Kentucky African American Civil War Veterans Monument); Frankfort, Kentucky
5. In Memory of More Than 400 Prominent United States Colored Troops from Kent County; Chestertown, Maryland
6. Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment; Boston, Massachusetts
7. African American Monument; Vicksburg, Mississippi
8. 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Civil War Monument – “Battle of Island Mound”; Butler, Missouri
9. 56th United States Colored Troops Monument; St. Louis, Missouri
10. Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri; Jefferson City, Missouri
11. In Memory of the Colored Union Soldiers: Hertford, North Carolina
12. United States Colored Troops National Monument; Nashville, Tennessee
13. West Point Monument (AKA Norfolk African-American Civil War Memorial); Norfolk, Virginia

It seems noteworthy that most of these memorials dedicated to African American soldiers are located in previously Confederate states or in what were border slave states.  There are memorial statues or monuments in Norfolk, VA, Hertford, NC, Nashville, TN, and Vicksburg, MS.  One must admit that the impressive statue in Vicksburg is surprising.

Most of these monuments have been placed in recent times (after the 1990s).  However it does depict a willingness to acknowledge the role and impact of African Americans during the American Civil War.  It seems impossible to place these monuments in southern locations and previous slave states without recognizing the issue of slavery and its role upon the division of our nation and the agency of African American men in playing a decisive role in achieving northern victory.  Granted, there are only a few of these monuments in contrast to the hundreds depicting the courageous Confederate soldiers; but a few may signal something significant in how this nation’s memory of the Civil War may be changing.  Do a few memorials to African American veterans of the Civil War mark a new view of the Civil War or are they simply a way to appear more diverse and appease the African American populations of the South?  Could they be an attempt to include the “Colored Troops” in the reuniting effort of all the soldiers uniting in valor and courage?

In David W. Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, he discusses Wilbur Siebert and his popular book published in 1898, The Underground Railroad.  Siebert’s fascination with the subject led him to conduct highly in-depth research, such as sending mass amounts of letters to Northerners, in order to obtain information about conductors, routes, and reactions to the infamous getaway system.[1]  After his description of Siebert, Blight discusses the impacts of his influential study of The Underground Railroad.  Northerners across the nation sought to become a member of this riveting part of history.  Suddenly, everyone’s mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and twice-removed cousins became a conductor or participant in The Underground Movement.[2]  

This made me start thinking of memory and identity and how the two come together when discussing The Underground Railroad.  I began to wonder how this subject is remembered considering there is so much fact and fiction surrounding the material related to it.  I decided to Google it and see how my generations and the ones before it are dealing with the numerous sources of information.  What I found was not only astonishing, but also somewhat disappointing.  It turns out that the secretive Underground Railroad that was alive in the mid-1800s is still a mystery in the present day.

My first problem comes with the National Geographic website, one which I thought would have somewhat accurate information given the fact that it is a popular site for educational purposes.  Apparently, the website should not be teaching anyone about anything, especially The Underground Railroad.  The National Geographic’s “Faces of Freedom” page not only is missing the face of Harriet Tubman altogether, but it also includes faces of perpetual slave owners.  An example of this is one Jonathan Walker, who at the bottom of the page is described as, “Imprisoned for helping seven slaves sail from Florida bound for the Bahamas, he was branded on the hand with SS for ‘Slave Stealer.’ After release he became a ‘conspicuous witness against slave power’ for the abolitionists.”[3]  For one, I have no idea what a slave holder has to do with The Underground Railroad and for two, how do the writers of National Geographic know that he became an advocate for abolition?  It is this kind of misrepresentation that wrongly educates the modern-day youth of America.  Do me a favor and stick to your strong-suit National Geographic, which is limited to wild animals and physical geography. 

My next pet peeve involves The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which again, seems like an adequate educational website.  That is until I get to the page entitled “Historic Timeline of Slavery and the Underground Railroad,” which has so many misnomers that I thought a virus had finally entered my Mac and erased all the factual information.  One example of this horrendous inaccuracy involves slaves being transferred to the New World.  The site specifically states that in 1619, “Africans brought to Jamestown are the first slaves imported into Britain’s North American colonies.  Like indentured servants, they were probably freed after a fixed period of service.”[4] This atrocity prompts history lesson, given my thesis research surrounds indentured servitude in the 17th and 18th century.  Slaves were not given contracts and indentured servitude died out because slaves were cheaper and were bound forever.  Plantation owners and various colonial individuals did not have to replace slaves because their indentures were never over, hence the terms perpetual enslavement.  To add insult to injury, this site goes on to further place The Fugitive Slave Act in 1793 (but they put “Also see 1850” because that apparently makes it okay) and fails to even include The Underground Railroad on the timeline even though it is included in the title.[5]  In basic terms, this site is a complete and utter failure as well as a disgrace in educating the American public.

This brings us to the issue of The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park and The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, two monumental locations that were approved last August to be built in Maryland and New York.[6]  One can only wonder, especially with everything that has been discussed recently regarding monuments and memory, how these parks are going to accurately depict Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad.  Given that most of the history, both past and present, clearly has trouble describing the true nature of the railroad, I remain skeptical that these parks will do justice to the era of Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad.


[1] David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), 231.

[2] Blight, 232.

[3] National Geographic, “The Underground Railroad: Faces of Freedom,” http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/multimedia/interactive/the-underground-railroad-faces-of-freedom/?ar_a=1 (accessed June 28, 2012).

[4] National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, “Historic Timeline of Slavery and the Underground Railroad,” U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Education and Cultural (URR) Program, http://www.freedomcenter.org/underground-railroad/history/timeline/ (accessed June 28, 2012).

[5] National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

[6] Harriet Tubman, “Cardin, Mikulski Praise Senate Committee Passage of Bill to Create Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks,” PWTS Multi Media, http://www.harriettubman.com/index.html (accessed June 28, 2012).